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Saturday, 13 July 2019

Doggy!

I don't have to go far before I see a small child pointing at Liggy and shouting, "Doggy!" It's rather sweet and I'm generally pleased to see that most children are not afraid of dogs. Of course, sometimes I pass a child who is scared, and to be fair, when you look at the size of Liggy next to a toddler, is there any wonder? She must seem huge to them!

What amuses me though (and sometimes drives me mad) is what the parents (usually mum) say in reply to their little one. Here are some of the things I have heard in the last few weeks and months.

1. That's a blind dog

This one just makes me laugh. I know what they mean but really?!! My dog is not blind. Can you imagine a blind assistance dog? I think they mean a guide dog, but even then, surely they can tell that I'm not blind. Maybe not?

2. He's helping that lady

I thought I'd throw that in. It's almost the perfect statement, except for the assumption that she's a he. I wonder how we decide on the gender of a dog on first sight. Most people seem to think Liggy is a boy. Is it because she's black? Working?

They are right though, that Liggy is helping me. Sometimes they add in a line about not being allowed to pet/distract her because she's working. I am very grateful to parents who teach their children that.

3. Don't touch it. It might bite you.

I think it might be sensible to teach children that strange dogs might bite, but an assistance dog... in a supermarket? Highly unlikely. It's more likely that I'll bite the parent. Sometimes, the parent is reacting because they are scared of dogs, and I get that. The ones that irritate me are those who say it like a threat. Suddenly, my Liggy becomes the reason to behave better.

4. It's pulling the lady in her wheelchair

This is the one that always makes me want to shout back. I spent months training Liggy not to pull. Sure, she has aspirations of becoming a sled-pulling husky one day, but the one thing she is NOT allowed to do is pull. And if she is pulling, that is the best time ever to leave us alone! I will almost definitely be stressed and so will Liggy. Anyway, I do not need pulling or pushing! I am quite capable of moving myself around.

5. That's a very clever doggy, that is.

Well, that is the most accurate statement ever! I often wonder if they realise just how clever she is. They might have seen videos of assistance dogs emptying washing machines or taking cards out of the cash point. These videos always show the tasks that are highly visual. They don't show the half though. They don't show a dog, fast asleep on a carpeted floor and their owner dropping something so light (a pencil sharpener or a credit card) that you can't even hear it land. They don't show the dog waking immediately, retrieving and giving the dropped item back and they absolutely cannot show the amount of relief the owner feels at not having to bend down to pick it up.

Although this parent knows she's a very clever doggy, they might not have thought about the hours of  training it took to learn how to get the phone off it's cradle on a shelf that is just slightly too high, without knocking over the stash of LPs on the shelf below.

This parent might, if I don't look too busy, come and ask me what my dog does to help me. If I'm not busy, I really enjoy talking to people about Liggy, especially if they have children. Sometimes I deliberately drop something, to show them what she can do. They are almost always amazed at what she is capable of. Then I ask them which task they think she finds the hardest.

Nobody ever gets the right answer.

The task Liggy finds the hardest of all, is to walk past someone who is trying to fuss her and just ignore them. She's getting much better with practice but she is a very sociable girl and loves to 'say hello'. If we had time, she could be fussed by every person we meet and still not be bored of it all. Part of being a working dog... a clever dog, though, is learning to ignore distractions and stay focussed on me. That's hard and that's why I really appreciate all the people who leave her alone and make her job easier.

I can't fuss her at all?!!

Oh yes, fuss and hellos are the best reward in the world for Liggy... almost as good as food! So when she has finished a complete job:

  • when we are leaving a supermarket
  • when we have finished a meal in a restaurant and are paying the bill
  • when she has been good through a long meeting (church/work)
  • when she has completed a big task
Then, please give her loads of fuss. Be warned though, she will probably roll over and expect a tummy rub! And she'll lick you a lot. And her tail will wag violently and knock things over. But you will be reinforcing the message that she has succeeded in being a very clever doggy that helped that lady in the wheelchair and didn't pull and wouldn't even think about biting and actually just loves being a Canine Partner.


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